New abortion laws come into force in Northern Ireland

New abortion laws have come into effect in Northern Ireland, allowing terminations in all circumstances up to 12 weeks.

The major changes also allow for terminations to go ahead up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy if there is a risk to the physical or mental health of the woman or girl.

In cases of severe and fatal foetal anomalies, there is no gestational limit.

Westminster MPs passed provisions on terminations last year in the absence of the power-sharing Assembly at Stormont.

DUP MLA Paul Givan has criticised the Northern Ireland Office for introducing the changes even thought devolved government has now returned.

“Here in Northern Ireland, they have the most extreme, radical, abortion laws anywhere in Europe,” he claimed on Tuesday.

“It is a travesty that this has been allowed to happen.”

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister raised the matter in the Assembly.

He said: “From today, what should be the safest place for an unborn, namely its mother’s womb, can become on a whim one of the most dangerous places - because we are going now to have utterly unfettered, uncontrolled abortion up to 12 weeks.”

Green Party leader Clare Bailey said the changes should be welcomed as a step forward.

“Access to abortion is a positive move,” she said.

She added that many barriers still existed to terminations after 12 weeks and called for greater use of tele-medicine to provide pills.

Amnesty International has also welcomed the new regulations.

“Finally women in Northern Ireland will have their choice and rights protected,” Grainne Teggart, from the organisation, said.

“For more than a century, we’ve had a near-total ban on abortion, but now all those facing crisis pregnancy will have the option of this free, safe and legal healthcare.”

But she also raised the issue of accessibility, particularly during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Travelling is not a safe or viable option, and as services are yet to be commissioned in Northern Ireland, women here are left without access to the healthcare,” Ms Teggart said.

“Some women have never had the option to travel - those who experience domestic abuse and those with an insecure immigration status are often blocked from accessing abortion services.

“Allowing women to self-manage at home is a crucial way of ensuring that all have access to this vital healthcare.”

She added: “England has now introduced measures to allow women to take both abortion pills at home. It makes no sense that women in Northern Ireland are being denied this option.

“It’s unfair, dangerous, and is putting them at risk.

“We urge the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to enable women to safely manage abortions at home. We will be working around the clock until these provisions are secured.”